Libertarian News Responds: Jon Stewart’s 19 Questions To Libertarians

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, October 27, 2011

http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes/thu-october-27-2011-andrew-napolitano


A response to Stewart’s questions and statements:

  • Is government the antithesis of liberty?

I would say that depends upon how one defines the word “government.”  If we define government as the modern State, then yes.  The State claims for itself a monopoly on the use of force within a given geographical region and claims to be the final arbiter of all disputes within an arbitrary geographical region that it controls.  The State funds itself through the expropriation and coercive theft of resources within its region of control.

As State power expands, freedom is diminished.  There is a direct 1:1 correlation between the destruction of property rights and the expansion of State power.  The State claims to be a protector of property rights, but clearly this oxymoronic since the State uses coercion to fund itself.  In fact, the primary purpose of the State is the destruction of property rights.

For example, business licenses demand that citizens obtain permission before they can sell their own property.  Drug laws completely prohibit the sale of certain types of private property.  Property taxes are a rent that the State imposes through violence on land that it does not rightfully own.  Business regulations impose rules on the use of property that the State does not rightfully own.  etc.. etc.. etc..

As the State expands its rule, it must take ever more from the productive private sector by force in order to fund the imposition of its arbitrary rules.  Clearly the more resources the State takes for itself, the less resources the public has to produce things that people want to voluntarily purchase on their own.  The more resources the State takes for itself, the more property rights are undermined and destroyed.

For example, if a State has a set of laws that can be enforced by X number of cops, it will require X + (some additional number of cops) if it wishes to impose more rules.  If it requires more cops, by definition it needs to increase the amount of wealth it loots from the general public to pay for those cops.  Hence, a direct correlation between the destruction of property rights and the expansion of State power.  Of course, this is not just limited to cops, but includes EPA agents, DEA agents, Park Rangers, etc.. etc.. etc.. and all the bureaucrats and lawyers that are associated with those laws and agencies.

If liberty is the ability to do whatever you want as long as you are not harming others or other peoples’ property, we can say with total certainty that the modern State is the antithesis of this, since the modern State is predicated on coercing people who have harmed no one and stealing/controlling their property.

  • One of the things that enhances freedoms are roads. Infrastructure enhances freedom. A social safety net enhances freedom.

It is a fallacy to claim that, in the absence of State coercion, roads and social safety nets would not exist.  The first major roads in the US were privately owned pay-per-use turnpikes.  These turnpikes failed because the State refused to uphold the road owners’ property rights and enforce the tolls that were charged.  In addition, the State competed against the turnpike operators by creating its own public roads at tax payer expense.  It is hard to compete against an agency that has unlimited funding and gives its product away for free.

Today, we can clearly see that privately owned tollways are superior to State run highways in all aspects.  Private tollways are uniformly maintained at a higher level, have less traffic congestion, and are more efficient in the routes between population centers that they employ.  Private tollways use peak pricing to moderate congestion, in contrast to State run tollways that offer blanket discounts to frequent users.

Consider that if the market has a need for something, such as a road between two points, entrepreneurs will build whatever is needed if they can be reasonably assured that they can make a profit from its construction.  The question is not “how would roads get built without the State?” but rather “why wouldn’t private entrepreneurs build roads that were profitable?”  - clearly they would.  Economist Walter Block explains why private roads are superior to public roads in this lecture.

Further, consider that businesses want to make it as easy as possible for consumers to access their stores, so it stands to reason that most roads in commercial districts would be funded by businesses and would be freely accessible to the public.   Also consider that many private residential developers currently construct their own roads today, so it would be a simple matter for them to roll the maintenance of such roads into home owners fees.

I’m not sure how State run “social safety nets” enhance freedom given that they involve increased destruction of property rights.  Consider that someone must pay for these safety nets.  While private charity subsists entirely on funding sources that can afford to be charitable with their investment resources, State run safety nets are predicated entirely on the use of coercive force to maintain them.  State operated “safety nets”  deprive society of more important advancements in support of the human condition.    When the State takes money from a medical device manufacturer through taxation and then hands that money to an indigent through welfare, it directly prevents the creation of additional medical devices that would otherwise exist had the State not stolen the money.

The only way to fund social safety nets that does not involve the destruction of more necessary goods and services is to allow private industry/individuals to voluntarily fund private charities with the “cream” of their profits that those particular people can afford to give away without damaging their business.

  • What should we do with the losers that are picked by the free market?
Nothing.  If people are not willing to voluntarily pay for something, then clearly whatever that “thing” is must not be worth producing in the manner it was produced.   Bankruptcy is the market’s way of telling producers that they are wasting resources that could be better put to use in other areas of the economy.
  • Do we live in a society or don’t we? Are we a collective? Everybody’s success is predicated on the hard work of all of us; nobody gets there on their own. Why should it be that the people who lose are hung out to dry? For a group that doesn’t believe in evolution, it’s awfully Darwinian.

A “successful” society is one that is full of abundant consumer products and services that enrich the daily lives of the citizenry.  While it is true that it takes everyone working cooperatively to achieve an abundant (ie. wealthy) society, the use of coercion to redistribute resources always leads to a worse economic condition than if people had been left to trade their own property among themselves voluntarily.

The absence of coercion fosters a huge incentive for people to engage in productive activities.  If people can not benefit from coercion, then they must produce something of value to society if they wish to live a comfortable life.  Consider that a person must produce something of value to society before they can trade it for something else that they need more.

  • In a representative democracy, we are the government. We have work to do, and we have a business to run, and we have children to raise.. We elect you as our representatives to look after our interests within a democratic system.

Democracy is mob rule.   It is more appropriate to say that the majority imposes rulers upon the minority in order to expropriate and control the minority’s property.  How can a “leader” that was elected by the majority look after the minority who directly opposed their election in the first place?

  • Is government inherently evil?

If by government you mean the modern State, then yes.  If people want something, they will pay for it voluntarily.  Since nothing  government does is predicated on the voluntary funding of resources, it stands to reason that most of what the government does is either not desired by the general public or is done in an entirely inefficient manner.   If the government provided services that people actually wanted, it wouldn’t have to use coercion to fund whatever projects it was proposing.  From this fact, we can deduce that the State wantonly destroys or wastes resources and does so through the use of violent threats, which I find to be a great definition of the word evil.

  • Sometimes to protect the greater liberty you have to do things like form an army, or gather a group together to build a wall or levy.
This assumes that private markets are incapable of defending property rights within a given geographical region and that private markets are incapable of producing infrastructure that people desire.  Clearly both assumptions are ridiculous.  Private insurance pools would be more than capable of funding defense forces in the absence of State coercive theft and militarism; and private industry routinely builds the infrastructure necessary to carry out its productive activities.
  • As soon as you’ve built an army, you’ve now said government isn’t always inherently evil because we need it to help us sometimes, so now.. it’s that old joke: Would you sleep with me for a million dollars? How about a dollar? -Who do you think I am?- We already decided who you are, now we’re just negotiating.

The defense of private property is not evil; the use of coercion to fund the defense of private property is oxymoronic and evil.

See above response for an Austrian School perspective on the voluntary funding of private defense forces.

  • You say: government which governs least governments best. But that were the Articles of Confederation. We tried that for 8 years, it didn’t work, and went to the Constitution.
The assertion that “it didn’t work” is refuted by the historical record.  It worked just fine.  However, business interests and the ambitions of political power worked to undermine freedom and centralize power for the benefits of the mercantilist and political classes.  Looking at Europe as an example of decentralized States, we can see that the low debt (limited government) nations who signed on to the European Union would be better off had they not agreed to be apart of such a system.  Why should Germany be forced to subsidize the Greek welfare State?  Are the people of Germany better off because they have been looted to prop up the Greek government and banking interests?  The same is true for the individual states here at home.  Are the people of a state that produces more than it consumes better off for subsidizing the welfare system of states that consume more than they produce?
  • You give money to the IRS because you think they’re gonna hire a bunch of people, that if your house catches on fire, will come there with water.
Private insurance is capable of funding private fire departments.  Since people want fire protection, they will voluntarily pay for fire protection.  There is no need to coerce people into paying for something they would naturally pay for on their own without any threats of violence being directed against them.
  • Why is it that libertarians trust a corporation, in certain matters, more than they trust representatives that are accountable to voters? The idea that I would give up my liberty to an insurance company, as opposed to my representative, seems insane.
Voting takes place once every four years.  Market transactions for insurance take place typically on a monthly or semi-annual basis.  People vote with their wallets.  If people don’t like the way an insurance company is doing business, they can change insurance companies that same day.  If people don’t like the way a politician is destroying their property rights, they must wait four years and pray that the mob shares their disagreements.  Remember, democracy is mob rule.
  • Why is it that with competition, we have such difficulty with our health care system? ..and there are  choices within the educational system.

Competition? What competition is this that you speak of?  When was the last time you went to a doctor and looked at a menu of prices for various services that were offered?  If consumers don’t care about prices, there is obviously no competition.  You can debate the merits of competition vs. coercive funding, but it is ridiculous to claim that we have competitive markets in healthcare today.

I can not buy an à la carte menu of health insurance coverage.  I can not buy coverage for just cancer from a provider based in Texas and coverage for just heart disease from a provider based in California.  I am forced to fund the healthcare of indigents that were previously cared for by private charity or pro-bono care by doctors.  I can not waive my rights to a civil suit in order to by-pass the exorbitant expense of malpractice insurance.  I must buy insurance that my employer selects if I wish to keep more of my own money due to the corrupt tax system that is in place.  Prices for healthcare are exploding precisely because there is no true free market in healthcare.

  • Would you go back to 1890?
Ridiculous.
  • If we didn’t have government, we’d all be in hovercrafts, and nobody would have cancer, and broccoli would be ice-cream?
Probably, if that is what people wanted.  If we consider the trillions wasted on unnecessary wars, the drug war, and the crony capitalist deals of bankers and government contractors, all of those resources could have been directed into the production of truly useful things that people would be willing to voluntarily pay for.  Consider that the cost of a single F-35 fighter jet uses up the equivalent resources of creating 6,500 fully loaded Honda Accords.
  • Unregulated markets have been tried. The 80’s and the 90’s were the robber baron age. These regulations didn’t come out of an interest in restricting liberty. What they did is came out of an interest in helping those that had been victimized by a system that they couldn’t fight back against.
Regulations always come out of an interest in restricting liberty.  Consider the regulations on currency.  In a true free market, the ponzi stock market schemes, stock market and real estate bubbles, would not be possible because the artificial expansion of credit (printing money) would not be possible.  Further, if we know that Wall Street basically owns the political class through its extraordinary amounts of campaign contributions and kickbacks, how could we ever expect politicians to enact legislation that would undermine their largest donors?  Clearly politicians work for the highest bidder (unless they happen to be Ron Paul).
  • Why do you think workers that worked in the mines unionized?

Voluntary unions of employees are a good thing, especially if the workers feel they are being treated unfairly.  Of course, the use of coercion to force people into unions or the prevention of “scab” labor from being hired to replace striking workers is not a good thing.  In a free market, workers and employers should be allowed to negotiate a fair wage under a voluntary contract that both parties voluntarily agree to abide by.  The use of force undermines positive economic outcomes.  People should be allowed to work in dangerous conditions if they want to – since they will not do so unless the pay is high enough to make the risk worth the reward.  Why should the State prevent someone from making a good living doing a dangerous job if the person agrees to the risks?

  • Without the government there are no labor unions, because they would be smashed by Pinkerton agencies or people hired, or even sometimes the government.
In the absence of coercion, people generally don’t need to unionize.  People who produce want to be paid based on the merits of their performance rather than seniority, and employers want to hire people who produce rather than those who wish to skate by on tenure.  Modern labor unions are organized by groups of people who do not want to be evaluated on the merits of their performance.
  • Would the free market have desegregated restaurants in the South, or would the free market have done away with miscegenation, if it had been allowed to? Would Marten Luther King have been less effective than the free market? Those laws sprung up out of a majority sense of, in that time, that blacks should not.. The free market there would not have supported integrated lunch counters.
The free market probably would have desegregated the South.  Consider that Jim Crow laws and slavery were entirely creatures of the State.  Slavery could not have existed without the State enforcing it.  It would have been prohibitively expensive for plantation owners to turn their plantations into prison compounds.  They relied entirely on the State in order to enslave their work force.  Further, if a business owner discriminates against customers based on race, they are depriving themselves of a revenue source.  The market would eventually run business who discriminate out of business or it would punish them by reducing their revenues in comparison to their competitors.
  • Government is necessary but must be held accountable for its decisions.

The protection of property rights and the arbitration of disputes is necessary; the coercive funding of institutions to carry out those goals is not.

When people argue in favor of the State, what they are really arguing in favor of is the use of coercion to accomplish some specific goal.  The use of coercion to accomplish tasks is barbaric, immoral, and unnecessary.  The State abolished private slavery because it demands a monopoly on slavery.  I think it is safe to say we have proven slavery to be ineffective and immoral in comparison to voluntary trade.  If slavery is wrong for individual plantation owners, it is wrong for the mob as well.

Philosopher Stefan Molyneux provides his response to these questions here:

 

  • Freedom

    I hope these answers get mailed/sent to The Daily Show.  Stewart MUST read these answers, as well as the source materials you cited.

    I recommend adding “For a New Liberty” and “The Ethics of Liberty,” both by Murray Rothbard, to the works you cited.

    • GenericHuman

      Jon’s not gonna read this. He was having a conversation with a guest, he wasn’t putting forward his ‘best arguments’ against libertarianism. Imagine how many people take issue with things he says and want to send in things he ‘MUST’ read.

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  • Anonymous

    A wonderful read, well done!

    I admire Stewart, but I disagree with his views.  I hope he continues this debate and realizes that despite the initial thought-blocks which we are indoctrinated to, libertarianism is indeed the most liberty-minded, equal-rights solution thus proposed.

    • http://twitter.com/iBaconi Bacon Nivison

      Before he changes his mind, he’ll have to get one…  I think..  er somethin’.

  • The Freedom School

    Here’s another answer to these questions:
    A Way To Be Free – by Robert LeFevre
    http://tinyurl.com/4xwyycf

  • http://twitter.com/iBaconi Bacon Nivison

    Who’s Jon Stewart?

  • Cmcmahon

    I had to answer these questions before reading other peoples answers.
    Here are my answers… please argue them with me if you think I am wrong as I am always looking for a better perspective.

    1.   Is government the
    antithesis of liberty?

    Just and proper
    government is not the antithesis of liberty. The de facto government operates in
    its own interest where a de jour government operates in the people’s interest.

     

    2.  One of the things
    that enhances freedoms are roads. Infrastructure enhances freedom. A social
    safety net enhances freedom.

    Roads may or may not
    enhance freedom depending on usury on the people that travel on them. If you
    need registration, licensing, permits, insurance, expensive mechanical
    contraptions to move about on roads but don’t have the resources to purchase
    them did a road enhance your freedom or restrict it? If the road you paid to
    build with taxes were leased to a foreign power and tolls were established did
    you enhance your freedom?

    Infrastructure
    enhances convenience and gives you more time to spend the way you want. However
    in today’s modern world infrastructure is used to tax you.  For example you get a tax bill from the state
    on property tax. The bill is for sewer in CA but 90% of the bill is direct
    taxation. If you don’t have the currency you can lose your home.

    A social safety net
    does more harm than good in my opinion. If there were no social safety net
    people wouldn’t come to expect a hand out from government. It encourages malinvestment. Let’s take food stamps for example. If food stamps didn’t exist how
    many people would be growing their own food? I would expect the answer to be a
    lot more than do today. Farmers in the United States would probably be able to
    make a comfortable living without government subsidies.

     

    3.  What should we do
    with the losers that are picked by the free market?

    We don’t have a free
    market. If you need a license or a permit to do business you are so far from a
    free market there really is no comparison. 
    People do well in free markets because there are few restrictions. That
    is why free markets are not allowed to exist. If you were to loose in a free
    market you have more options, get a job, start a business.

     

     4.  Do we live in a society or don’t we? Are we a
    collective? Everybody’s success is predicated on the hard work of all of us;
    nobody gets there on their own. Why should it be that the people who lose are
    hung out to dry? For a group that doesn’t believe in evolution, it’s awfully
    Darwinian.

    Yes there is always a
    society, weather people cooperate or not is based on the rules in place. They
    call it the rat race for a reason. The frog is boiling analogy is real. When
    the free market slowly disappeared through regulation it slowly pitted everyone
    against each other. Instead of creating opportunity we are now grasping for it.
    You used to be able to get an apprenticeship and get paid to learn a trade.
    Today you pay large amounts of currency to learn a trade, often times only
    learning enough to pass a test.

    People are really only
    hung out to dry in the system we have today. In order to succeed you need
    opportunity. If all opportunity is based on currency then only the people with
    currency will get an opportunity.

     

    5. In a representative democracy, we are the government. We
    have work to do, and we have a business to run, and we have children to raise..
    We elect you as our representatives to look after our interests within a
    democratic system.

    This comes down to a du jour
    government versus a de facto government. We have a de facto government. A De facto
    government looks out for government and not the people. If you want a du jour
    government elect a peaceful leader. If a president doesn’t declare a war and we
    return to peacetime the de facto government has to give up on its martial law
    declaration. There is a martial law in the united states at this time.

     

    6.  Is government
    inherently evil?

    No but you should
    always try to elect people that stand on principle, morality, or suffer the
    conscience of bad choices. If a person makes poor choices in their own lives
    what makes you think they will make good leader?

     

    7.  Sometimes to
    protect the greater liberty you have to do things like form an army, or gather
    a group together to build a wall or levy.
    Armys were never intended to be standing armies. As far as builing this was the function
    of corporations. They were to be formed for a purpose in the public interest
    then dissolved after that function was finished. They were not people. They
    didn’t live forever.

     

    8.   As soon as you’ve
    built an army, you’ve now said government isn’t always inherently evil because
    we need it to help us sometimes, so now.. it’s that old joke: Would you sleep
    with me for a million dollars? How about a dollar? -Who do you think I am?- We
    already decided who you are, now we’re just negotiating.

    In a time the country
    is in peril. It is just and right to defend it. This should not be a war
    launched by a single person. It should have a clear objective. Above all it
    should never be based on lies. It should never be offensive in nature. It is
    always be a last resort.

     

     9. You say:
    government which governs least governments best. But that were the Articles of
    Confederation. We tried that for 8 years, it didn’t work, and went to the
    Constitution.

     The Constitution for the United States or The
    Constitution of the UNITED STATES? I tend to think if we just stayed with the
    Constitution for the United States we would have been fine.

     

      10. You give money
    to the IRS because you think they’re gonna hire a bunch of people, that if your
    house catches on fire, will come there with water.

    These questions are
    getting accusatory. The IRS isn’t a government agency. They have to pay for
    postage just like anyone else. They are the collection wing of the federal
    reserve system and create an artificial demand for paper dollars. I am not sure
    what you mean houses on fire or water. If you mean the local fire department. Then I counter with Earthbag construction which is fire proof, but again is hard to get approved by building departments.

     

      11. Why is it that
    libertarians trust a corporation, in certain matters, more than they trust
    representatives that are accountable to voters? The idea that I would give up
    my liberty to an insurance company, as opposed to my representative, seems
    insane.

    I personally don’t
    trust corporations. I expect them to make money in the highest priority. I also
    don’t trust government representatives to do anything that doesn’t ultimately
    help the de facto government. Isn’t most insurance a mandate by the government?

     

    12.   Why is it that
    with competition, we have such difficulty with our health care system? ..and
    there are choices within the educational system.

    The health care system
    is broken because there are not enough doctors. The small amount of doctors
    turned out each year is never going to meet demand. The government is also
    regulating the trade through the legal system, education for doctors is
    outrageously  expensive. HMO’s are
    another bureaucracy that  raise
    costs.  The solution is the free market.

     

     13.  Would you go back to 1890?

    No. I would repeal the act of 1871.

     

    14.  If we didn’t have
    government, we’d all be in hovercrafts, and nobody would have cancer, and
    broccoli would be ice-cream?

    Hovercrafts have been
    invented and even though they fly the government will not allow them to fly
    without a tether to a crane. Moller Skycar comes to mind.

    THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol
    has cancer fighting ability’s. The government is fighting to prevent THC from
    becoming legal again.

    Broccoli is good and
    ice cream is also good.

     

    15.   Unregulated
    markets have been tried. The 80’s and the 90’s were the robber baron age. These
    regulations didn’t come out of an interest in restricting liberty. What they
    did is came out of an interest in helping those that had been victimized by a
    system that they couldn’t fight back against.

    Regulations are
    restrictions. What good are regulations if they are not enforced for some but
    they are enforced for others? Do you want to live under a two tiered system?Look at the mortgage meltdown and you can see a two tiered system in action. Some business is too big to fail.

     

      16.  Why do you think workers that worked in the
    mines unionized?

    Their bosses where
    tyrannical? Generally I don’t believe in unions because you have to join a
    group even if you disagree with their opinions. You also are forced to pay that
    group. You may be working against you beliefs just to be employed.  

     

      17.  Without the government there are no labor
    unions, because they would be smashed by Pinkerton agencies or people hired, or
    even sometimes the government.

    Again I don’t agree
    with unions for the most part.

     

       18.  Would the free market have desegregated
    restaurants in the South, or would the free market have done away with
    miscegenation, if it had been allowed to? Would Marten Luther King have been
    less effective than the free market? Those laws sprung up out of a majority
    sense of, in that time, that blacks should not.. The free market there would
    not have supported integrated lunch counters.

    Personally I don’t
    think in terms of race. I see it as a divide and conquer issue and you lose
    just by bringing it up.

     

     19.  Government is necessary but must be held
    accountable for its decisions.

    Yes but who holds
    government accountable? A de jour government is not a sovereign government as
    the people are sovereign. A de facto government acts like it’s sovereign and
    immune to the law.

    The people are the
    sovereigns not the government.

  • Michael R. Moore

    “Ridiculous.” is the best response you can manage to the 1890 question?  It’s a good (albeit misguided) question with an easy answer.  Just say that the improvements in the standard of living are from technological advances due to the limited capitalism we *have* had.

  • John Boyd

    As to the healthcare question, you should have mentioned that in the later 19th century and early 20th century, there were private mutual aid societies that provided social and health care to individuals from all backgrounds until the government stepped in and in conjunction withe AMA shut them down.

    As for the regulation question, you should have mentioned how it was primarily the companies that pushed for regulation in order to create monopolies that they were unable to enforce through private means. A perfect example of this is James J Hill, the ICC and the railroads. Rothbard and DiLorenzo have talked about this extensively.

  • Davidtabolid

    You fear “government,” yet fail to address the enormous and uncontrolled power of some individuals.

  • fox

    Justice is a very objective term..keep this in mind. You may believe that private property is the ultimate manifestation of justice, but this may not be true for everyone.

  • Jesse Melat

    Wow.  You people really _are_ worse than the Truthers and the Creationists.

    *looks to the right sidebar of the site*

    Well hell….file that one under “Things That Make Sense”.

  • ScrewJohnStewart

    I don’t understand why people are even bothering to respond to this fool. He works for Comedy Central which is owned by Viacom one of the big three corporations that control our media. I hate it that he would actually try and call out libertarians then play commercials. What I hate more are people that think he’s some sort of balanced, thought filled reporter. He’s just another shill pushing corporatist agendas.

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